Top Five Books of 2017

We asked our reviewers to offer the top five titles they enjoyed most in 2017 in a number of categories. Some felt five was too limiting; others had trouble sticking to 2017. All in all, our gracious reviewers offer up some wonderful lists of great books, movies, music, and more for your consideration, and you can follow links to either the Banner review where available or more information on the title. Here are the lists:

From Phil Christman, who teaches English at the University of Michigan and attends St. Clare's Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor, Mich.:

  1. The New Testament: A Translation by David Bentley Hart (Yale University Press). Theologian Hart takes his career-long emphasis on the revolution Christianity wrought on our ideas of beauty to its logical conclusion—a New Testament that is awkward, dissonant, and strange—and beautiful for all of that.
  2. Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy by Tressie McMillan Cottom (The New Press). Cottom takes years of deep research and boils them down to an elegant, erudite, morally impassioned book. This is the story of for-profit colleges, but it's also the story of contemporary America. (Full disclosure: the author is a friend. But I have lots of friends, and only one could write Lower Ed.)
  3. The Idiot by Elif Batuman (Penguin). The whole experience of late-90s young adulthood, but funnier.
  4. The House of Governmentby Yuri Slezkine (Princeton). A massive history of the first generation of Soviet bureaucracy, but it touches on so much more: the great poetry and art of the Russian Futurists, the history of Soviet architecture, and the origins of the revolutionary temperament.
  5. After Kathy Acker by Chris Kraus (Semiotext). A woman who seems incapable of writing a bad sentence offers a sympathetic glance at a woman who (intentionally) wrote a ton of them, and illuminates a whole moment in American cultural history as she does so.

 
From Jenny deGroot, a teacher/librarian in Langley, B.C.:

  1. Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson (St. Martin’s Press). A timely read for a time when our tears should not stop until the powerful are brought low and peacemakers are blessed.
  2. Beartown by Fredrick Backman (Atria). A hockey town novel about the manipulation of power and the resilience of the human spirit.
  3. If I Forget You by Thomas Christopher Greene (Thomas Dunne). A story of lost love, marriage, family, and loyalties told in lyrical prose.
  4. Remembrance by Alistair MacLeod (McClelland & Stewart). Last novel by this Canadian author tells of three generations affected by the long shadow of war.
  5. SOLD by Patricia McCormick (Hyperion). A young Nepalese girl is sold into slavery in India in this young adult novel written in short vignettes.

 
From Sonya VanderVeen Feddema, a freelance writer and a member of Covenant CRC in St. Catharines, Ont.:

  1. When the English Fall by David Williams (Algonquin). Wow! What a book!
  2. Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh (G.P Putnam’s).
  3. Stranger No More: A Muslim Refugee’s Story of Harrowing Escape, Miraculous Rescue, and the Quiet Call of Jesus by Annahita Parsan (Thomas Nelson).
  4. Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church by Winn Collier (Eerdmans).
  5. The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Dial Books). Sequel to The War That Saved My Life.

 
From Kristy Quist of Grand Rapids, Mich., Mixed Media Editor for The Banner:

  1. When the English Fall by David Williams (Algonquin). Dystopian calamity described from the perspective of an Amish farmer in a moving spiritual novel.
  2. The Hate U Giveby Angie Thomas (Balzar + Bray). Realistic, sometimes gritty young adult novel tackles racism and privilege with grace and intelligence.
  3. News of the World by Paulette Jiles (William Morrow). This wonderful novel came out in fall of 2017, but the combination of a western and a reflection on life’s purpose made it a favorite when I read it this year.
  4. The Boy Who Loved Too Much, by Jennifer Latson (Simon & Schuster). Journalist Latson introduces readers to Eli, a young man who has Williams syndrome, and in the process teaches us a lot about ourselves.
  5. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (Dutton Books for Young Readers). In spite of some unrealistic plotlines, young adult novelist Green draws on his own experience with obsessive-compulsive disorder to create a compelling and enlightening novel.

From Jim Romahn, a freelance journalist in Kitchener, Ont., where he belongs to Community Christian Reformed Church:

  1. Break Open the Sky by Stephan Bauman (Multnomah). Dare to live a fearless life of compassion.
  2. As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Eugene Peterson (WaterBrook). A collection of Peterson’s sermons.
  3. Karolina’s Twins by Ronald Balson (St. Martin’s Griffin). The story of Jewish women imprisoned by the Nazis.
  4. A Different Kind of Daughter by Maria Toorpakai (Twelve). A girl growing up in Taliban territory in Pakistan.
  5. The Power Broker by Robert Caro (Vintage). The story of Robert Moses, an ambitious builder of New York bridges, expressways, and parks (published in 1979).

 
From Reginald Smith, director of race relations and social justice for the Christian Reformed Church and member of Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.:

  1. The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein (Liveright). Housing justice is the justice issue of our times.
  2. The Power of Proximity by Michelle Warren (IVP). How to become a better ally to the city.
  3. A Land Full of God: Christian Perspectives on the Holy Land by Mae Elise Cannon (Cascade). Essays that helped me to gain humility about my own blind spots about this contested land of three faiths.
  4. Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama by David Garrow (William Morrow). Learning much from the over 1,000-page biography on the complex 44th president of the United States.
  5. The Myth of Equality by Ken Wytsma (IVP). White Christians should read this book and allow Ken to be your guide.

Honorable Mentions: This Far By Faith: Madison Square CRC History by Al Mulder and Jackie Venegas, and Growing Pains by Chris Meehan (Eerdmans) about the origins of the Race Relations Office.

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